In another twist to a UConn men's basketball season that's had a few of them, the Huskies worst loss of the season came against one of the worst teams in the Big East.
Just a week after taking the best team in the league, Georgetown, to double OT, the Huskies limped to South Florida, their lineup ravaged by injuries, and after taking a lead briefly at the start of the second half they were blown out, 65-51, by the Bulls before 5,198 at the Sun Dome on Wednesday night.
“We broke down mentally,” said DeAndre Daniels, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Huskies, who have lost three in a row. “We stopped playing defense, stopped together, stopping talking to each other. We just gave it up at the end. That’s where we missed our captain, Shabazz [Napier] bringing us together.”
With Napier and Niels Giffey wearing civilian clothes, and Omar Calhoun utterly unable to shoot with his sprained right wrist and Tyler Olander on the bench most of the second half with a bruised left foot, leaving on crutches, the make-shift Huskies had no chance, even against the Bulls (12-17, 3-14 in the Big East.) Daniels carried UConn in the first half, with 15 points, but the Bulls switched off, putting freshman Zach LeDay on him, were then able to put the clamps on Daniels, block Ryan Boatright and take the game away from the Huskies’ back-ups.
“I knocked down some shots,” Daniels said, “but it wasn’t enough to get us the ‘W.’”
Daniels, who was 9 for 16, was one-man offense. Boatright was 3 for 13 from the floor, unable to create anything with penetration, scoring only eight, and the Huskies went 3 for 20 on three-point shots.
“Ryan had a tough night and Omar had a tough night,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said, “and with Niels and Shabazz out, I need those two guys to make shots.”
The Bulls had seven steals, five in the second half, and crushed the Huskies with 15 points off turnovers. Martino Brock scored 18 points, Victor Rudd Jr. 17 and LeDay 11 for the Bulls. Point guard Anthony Collins scored four, but with 12 assists controlled the game, especially in the second half.
“It was bad defense by us,” OIlie said, “and good execution by them in the second half.”
UConn (19-10, 9-8) made just 9 of 30 from the floor in the second half. They have one chance left to reach 20 wins, against Providence at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday, but unless Napier, in particular, is able to recover from his foot injury in time to play a leading role, that game could be far more painful than this one. The Huskies’ only previous double-digit loss this season was by 15 points to Louisville, which was at the time ranked No.1 in the country on Jan. 14.
“Hopefully, we can make shots at 12 O’clock on Saturday,” Ollie said. “We have another opportunity to get 20 wins and we’re going to stay together and we’re going to keep fighting.”
The Huskies, erasing an eight-point deficit in the first half, led by four, 32-28, when Boatright made two free throws with 18:11 left to play. But USF scored the next seven points, and then it was off to the races - rare for the Bulls, who usually play a slower pace, but reality had set in. UConn was playing much of the game with players not usually on the floor at all, let alone together; R.J. Evans, the transfer from Holy Cross, played 32 minutes and often looked overmatched on the floor. Brendan Allen, the former walk-on, played 13 minutes, most of it after Calhoun, his wrist wrapped for the fifth game in a row, came out. Calhoun was 1-for-14 from the floor, cringing with each miss.
“I tried to push myself through,” Calhoun said, “tried to get something out of myself. We’ll have to see how it feels Saturday, if I can give it a go.”
Then Olander went down, and the Huskies were without four of their top six players. The defense completely broke down, Bulls players finding open paths to the rim while UConn players stared at each other, assignments missed. USF shot 50 percent in the second half, and outscored UConn 42 to 28 in the paint.
“I’m satisfied with our effort,” Ollie said, “but the way we played defense, I’m not satisfied with that. We lost some of our principles. And when you’re not making shots, you can’t set up your defense.”
South Florida had its regular team out there, the one that held a healthy UConn squad to 15 points in the first half at Gampel on Feb. 3 before losing in overtime. This time, USF caught the Huskies at a propitious time.
“We were definitely motivated,” Rudd said. “We felt we should have won that game, and we handed it away.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun